To the Editor:
Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics who died Jan. 11, was once asked, ''Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood?''
His answer has served as an inspiration for me as an educator, as a credo for my son during his schooling and should be framed on the walls of all the pedagogues, power brokers and politicians who purport to run our society.
The question was posed to Dr. Rabi by his friend and mine, Arthur Sackler, himself a multitalented genius, who, sadly, also passed away recently. Dr. Rabi's answer, as reported by Dr. Sackler, was profound: "My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: 'So? Did you learn anything today?' But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. 'Izzy,' she would say, 'did you ask a good question today?' That difference--asking good questions--made me become a scientist!"
This world of "Ready, Fire, Aim" would be a far better place if all the world's leaders, starting in particular with our President, hearkened to this wisdom. It's time to stop giving answers before we understand the questions.
Jan. 12, 1988
Thursday, December 07, 2017
I came across this excellent 1988 letter about the physicist Isador Rabi, from the NY Times, in which a reader retells a favorite anecdote of mine: